Posted August 18, 2008

DAVID VIRGIN:
SEKRET SEKRET, BROKEN TOYS, SPK
& THE SYDNEY UNDERGROUND
1978-85

Irish-born teenager DAVID VIRGIN sniffed out a party in adopted home Sydney in the late '70s - and promptly crashed it. Punk was teeming below the surface of a burgoening live music scene and Virgin wholeheartedly embraced what lay beneath. As bass-player for The Broken Toys, he was at the centre of a splintered, fast-moving movement that had inner-city outposts but was most at home at The Grand Hotel. Never recorded, The Broken Toys evolved , taking on members from Johnny Dole & The Scabs, and eventually falling apart in a life-cycle that was de rigeur for bands of their ilk. Virgin next joined SPK, the industrial/electronic noise band formed by future Hollywood film score writer Graeme Revell. Virgin, plus friend and longtime collaborator guitarist Danny Rumour, would figure on SPK's first recordings.

Virgin, Rumour and bassist Des Devlin went on to form The Ugly Mirrors. With Virgin now singing, they became Sekret Sekret, variously as 'psychedelic post-punk' and 'paisley-pop' whose short existence from 1979-84 served as the missing link between electronic pioneers SPK and mainstream chart toppers The Cruel Sea, with whom three members (including Rumour) would go on to play.

Sekret Sekret had two distinct line-ups and released just four four singles in their time. "New King Jack" and "Girl With a White Stick" have been recognised as watersheds in Australian underground music - evidence of onetime punks broadening their musical palette and challenging audience to come with them. The release in September 2008 of "Happy Town Sounds", a new compilation by Feel Presents, is Sekret Sekret's first ever long player and includes all four 45's as well as live radio broadcasts and studio out takes and includes covers of the Velvet Underground and The (Syd Barrett-era) Pink Floyd. It can be ordered here.

David Virgin has a substantial catalogue under his belt, including a 1990s collaboration with Rumour. You can download five of his albums free here. Now located in Dublin, he's an accomplished songwriter and producer, still charting his own musical course. He's also penned a collection of reminiscences from his early days in Sydney'punk underground, through the emergence and eventual fade of Sekret Sekret. It's a fascinating two-part read and one that the I-94 Bar is delighted to present.

 

THE COOLEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD

Before I had played a gig with my band The Sadists , later to be renamed The Broken Toys , I would travel from Campsie in Sydney's inner west, to visit the inner-city import music shop White Light Records. It was for me a home away from home, a record shop full of wonderful music; punk, 60's punk and Stooges records. The kind of people who would go there and the people behind the counter were all gods to me. I was probably about 15. They were in their 20's and late teens.

I felt I was amongst cool giants dressed in black. From that shop I found leaflets and posters of some bands playing around town. I think my first big night out was to see the movie Blank Generation at the Paris Theatre. The Paris Theatre used to stand where the big hotel at Whitlam Square stands now in Darlinghurst. I saw the movie twice, everyone in the audience was incredibly cool. The second time I took a tape recorder and recorded the whole soundtrack.

The bands playing in the film were mainly New York, CBGB's-type bands but didn't have records out in Australia till much later. Groups like Television, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Devo and Talking Heads. Back in Campsie my little friends and I built a small cult aroud my tapes. After that it seemed each week I would find a new and amazing thing in the Sydney underground scene.

My own band The Sadists were practicing hard and we were keen to play a gig. At that stage the band members were my brother John on drums, aged 13, Lyndon Hooper, a 14-year-old Welch kid on lead guitar, and Andrew Campbell as lead vocalist and rhythm guitar player. I was the song-writer and bass player. Andrew was a school friend of mine of Scottish decent. We had both attended Canterbury High School. I did a year there after being kicked out of The Christian Brothers, Burwood.

My plan to get us gigging was very simple. I would go to a punk gig, see the show then ask the bands if I could play at the next show they were doing. I found out about a gig in Alexandria, near Redfern, where the band Filth were advertised to play. I had the little poster that the band had made, on which they had written this crazy manifesto. The gig was called ' The Last Ditch Stand '.

I made my way to Alexandria; back then it was a very bleak and industrial part of town. As I got closer to the gig, I could hear the band playing, the sound ricocheting off the factories and warehouses. Outside at the front door on the street was standing Bob Short playing his guitar shirtless, with a chain for his guitar strap. He was very tall and very skinny. I could hear the band playing upstairs. Bob had a long lead on his guitar and was in fact playing the gig from the bottom of the stairs. I didn't know him at the time but he greeted me with a big smile and I followed him up to the gig. There he rejoined his band Filth. The sound was wonderful.

Later in the show Filth's singer, Peter Tilman, later of the Lipstick Killers, started to throw rancid cow's blood at the audience. This action caused a rush to the stairs as people tried to get away. I just stayed at the back wall and was safe. It was a great first gig for me to see.

I did ask Bob if I could play with them next time. He later played lead guitar with The Urban Guerillas . My own band went down very well at the gig, and it was there I secured some gigs with the Thought Criminals at Garabaldis. I got on very well with Bruce Warner from the Thought Criminals. He really liked my band and wanted to help. We would go on to be good friends. Later, we even wrote silly songs about each other and played them in our respective bands. Bruce had told me about a guy called Johnny Dole.

IN SEARCH OF JOHNNY DOLE


Johnny Dole featured in The Daily Mirror.

I was told Johnny Dole lived in Forbes St, Darlinghurst. I wasn't given a house number but I headed over there regardless to see if I could find him. Just as I crosssed Burton St, I saw a lone figure all dressed in black, barefoot, with pasty English skin and greasy rocker hair. I went straight up to him and asked: "Are you Johnny Dole?" He said, yes, and he was on his way to the shop to get his milk. I walked with him and asked if I could play a gig at the Grand Hotel. He said Yes and in fact I could have every Thursday night, as well as booking my own supports.

After playing a few gigs at The Grand Hotel as The Broken Toys, my brother John could no longer continue to play the drums in the band under pressure from my parents. The same kind of problem was happening with young Lyndon. Peter Mullaney from Johnny Dole and the Scabs offered to play lead guitar as his band wasn't gigging at that time and his friend Paul Cosgrove would take over the drums.

Soon after I moved into Forbes St with Johnny Dole, Peter Mullaney and Paul Cosgrove. We were now a more grown up Broken Toys. It was a great house and Dan Rumour moved in with us shortly after. Dan's band Black Runner had just split up as his brother , Jim, was sick with cancer. Jim was meant to die but he didn't. He went on to become Jim Bedhog of The Bedhogs and The Kelpies, two great hard punk bands. Dan kept himself busy playing lead guitar with The Urban Guerillas when Bob Short went to London. Dan also filled in on guitar with the all-girl band Friction (Helen Carter from Friction was later in Do-Re-Mi).

Forbes St was an amazing place at that time. The Urban Guerillas and The Thought Criminals lived across the road, and it seemed every other punk band was nearby. Mental as Anything lived on Forbes St. There was even street tennis on weekends. Everybody shared the same musical equipment and everyone was very generous in helping with posters and gigs. Dan Rumour called it Happytown. ( When "Sekret Sekret" later released "Charity" it was on Happytown Sounds.)


David Virgin and Danny Rumour.

Dan used to say, " these were the good old days ". We knew we were living in extraordinary times. We used to say these times will be remembered as a very important time for Australian music. Yes, we were full of ourselves yet it seemed every other day another amazing gig or event would happen.

I got on well with the late Johnny Dole. We were both immigrants and both from Campsie. He had a great record collection. He loved playing us his Beatles and Eddie Cochran records, he was a true rock 'n' roller. A lot of people were afraid of him. He was greatly misunderstood. In those days whenever a punk died, whoever was playing a gig would play "Search and Destroy". Sekret Sekret had the honour of playing "Search and Destroy" at French's Wine bar for the great Johnny Dole.

THE BROKEN TOYS - PAID IN FULL

It's 1968, I must be about six or seven-years-old. A band called Skid Row is playing in the lounge room of my family's house in Dublin. It's my oldest sister's birthday party and she's kinda dating the singer/bass player whose name is Phil Lynott, later of Thin Lizzy. At one point in the evening he lifts me above his head and announces: "This one will be a rock 'n' roller".

Fast forward a decade: I'm 16-years-old in The Grand Hotel, the place is packed, everyone is pissing sweat and replacing it with beer, vodka, and whiskey and Coke. There is no good air in the place. I'm playing bass guitar with my band The Broken Toys. The sound is hard, unforgiving. Somewhere in the sound are songs, the songs contain words, chord changes, drums. There is no stage, no lights, the crowd stands breast to breast with the band, touching the band, we fight for our space.

We hit out to defend our space, our right to have room to play, to keep our gear working, to protect our instruments. The crowd moves foward pushed from behind, Pete Mullany pushes them back holding his guitar at arms length. Andrew Campbell, our singer kicks them back, the mic stand is under threat. I hit several people, some in the face with the head of my bass.

There are no fights, no aggression. This is normal, this is what has become normal. No one is spitting, God help anyone who would spit at us. There is a song list, there are songs in the noise, in the mayhem.

Paul Cosgrove, my drummer, is exhausted, fag in his mouth, his blue eyes red with sweat and smoke. He falls behind the rhythm of the song. I shout: "Fuck you Cos, speed up!" He shouts back:"Fuck you David!" We laugh; he's fucked, we'd better do a slower song next. We can't hear the chord changes in the confusion. We've lost the song, I work with Pete to get it back.

Most of people in the room are taller than me. I can't see past the first row. I feel tiny, but completely safe. I'm a bit pissed. I've got no shirt on. It's too hot. I love this place. I love my band. "I'm a rock n roller" and "I'm paid in full".


The Grand Hotel photo courtesy of Phil Turnbull at No Night Sweats.

WHAT MAKES A PUNK A PUNK?

I'm borrowing from Charles Aznavour's "What Makes a Man a Man ?" As a kid I loved Aznavor, I still do. He's like a french Morrissey. Most people would know his song, "Dance in the Old Fashioned Way."

There was much debate in the pubs and clubs of Sydney in the late '70's on this very subject. Does clothes maketh punk, does political allegiance come in to play? What is anarchy? Who deserves the title of punk, who doesn't? Is it music? Is it lifestyle? Can you have a beard? I only ever saw one guy in the Grand Hotel with a beard. He was
the bass player for Tommy and the Dipsticks. It caused such a stir. Of course everyone was disgusted. "Is our struggle for nothing?" we all exclaimed. He turned out to be a really nice guy, and after a time everyone just got on with their own fun, or no fun if you were a political punk.

I had my own trouble with this hot topic. Representing my band The Broken Toys, I was interviewed by Susan Moore of The Daily Mirror. She wanted to know about me so I told her about me. Most of the interview was about how much I hated school saying things like: "It tries to destroy your imagination." She also asked me what kind of music dd we play, and me being a young shit stirrer said: "I play pop music". You have to understand the only people who used the word "pop" in the late '70s were old people as music had been refered to as rock music since the late '60s.

The paper hit the streets with my photo and the headings "Toys Better Than School" and "He Looks Punk But Says He's Pop ". Anyone who really knew me (and I admit there weren't many) knew I was having a laugh. In truth The Broken Toys did try for a '60s-type sound but in fact sounded more Pistols/Buzzcocks. At our next gig at the Grand, following the newspaper article, all hell broke loose. Everybody accused me of being pop. "David Virgin the pop star." It was amazing -people really hated me. Some saw me as a traitor to the "punk cause". It was weird. I never even knew there was a punk cause.

Most of the criticism came from punk fans who didn't play music, and the harshest words came from the political punks, the ones who thought punk was going to change the world and make everything all right. Now, David Virgin, a 16-year-old musician is going to ruin all of that with one article in The Mirror? I don't think so. My belief is that most of these "true punks" were just envious of my talents as most of them eventually went on to shoehorn themselves into bands where they could express their own ideas, and some of those bands were quite good.

I did of course, with my article in The Mirror, attract a lot of cool kids out of their cosy homes and down to The Grand Hotel to enjoy something new and different than what they might see on Countdown, and for many it would begin a lifelong love affair with punk music. I know this because people said to me: "I saw you in the paper and I came to have a look".

I believe punk is an ethic, an ethic that I personally suffered for, for practicing it in music, as many punks have suffered, whether they be fans, musicians, artists or support and business people. The late-'70s punks took risks looking and dressing as they did and some of us, including me, were even "shot by both sides".

It was a dangerous time for me. In fact one night, a pack of 20 or more of these "concerned" punks broke my door in and invaded my flat in Kings Cross. I was wearing only my pyjama bottoms when I greeted them, holding a knife in one hand and spinning a nunchuka in the other. With my spiky bleeched blonde hair and mascara, I must have looked a terrible sight as I heard one cry "he's got a knife!" and another exclaimed "he can use those things!", refering to my nunchuka. They all nearly killed themselves in a bottleneck for the door as they ran away. They never bothered me again.

To me, it was sad, I thought I'd left my violent gang days behind, in the numbered avenues of Campsie, and could pursue my art and music in the safety of the inner city. That night I was glad to have my old weapons at hand and I think once again of Charles Aznavour and his song, "What Makes a Man a Man?", and ponder still: "What makes a punk a punk?"


ON TO PART TWO

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